Tools for Concept Mapping

Non-computer methods

You don't have to use computers to create maps. Like word processing, using computers brings positive capabilities like the ability to make multiple revisions and to share work across distance and time. Also like word processing, using the computer has drawbacks compared to non-computer methods--learning the tools can take a lot of classrooms and computers do break. Always have a plan B. But you knew all that.

Wouldn't it be interesting if every classroom had a set of eight refrigerators? Refrigerator magnets offer intriguing possibility for physical concept mapping.

For small groups, traditional butcher paper and markers offer size benefits and ease of use over computers. It can be really interesting to have groups of students create concept maps at the beginning of a unit, then revisit them at the end to talk about how their ideas have developed.

And for whole-class discussions, using the overhead can be beneficial. You may want to try using the overhead in conjunction with a garden variety magnifying glass. Pass the magnifying glass over the transparency to highlight sections of the mpa.

Computer-aided concept mapping


Inspiration is probably the most commonly use concept map creating tool. It's available at; there's a fully functioning trial version that works for thirty days.

CAUTION: The K12 version seems to work better than the business version, and in both versions you should avoid the line drawing tool (not the link tool). The line drawing tool can cause unrecoverable corrupted files.

Anyhow. Inspiration is a program I would want with me on a desert isle. It supports complex, highly graphical mapping. All of the maps for this talk were created on Inspiration.

It has a straightforward interface which you can teach students to use in about a class period, and it allows note-taking and the creation of three dimensional maps, so students can get very in-depth in their map-making.

Inspiration also makes it easy to work with other kinds of programs. It can export maps to Web pages (all the maps on the Web site were created this way) as well as to traditional word processing and graphics programs.

One feature which people don't use as much (and they probably should), is the outline feature. Students can create their map and switch to outline view; Inspiration will automatically create a hierarchical outline for them. Alternatively, students can create a hierarchical outline and Inspiration will create a map from it.

The outlines can be exported directly to a word processing program and fleshed out from there.


A tool that far fewer people have heard about it Co-Motion, available for free from Bittco.

Co-Motion is a shared whiteboard program which allows students to brainstorm and create concept maps. Student computers can be Macs or Windows and can be located anywhere on the Internet. The program has to be served from a Mac, but it doesn't have to be any special Mac; any Mac connected to the Internet will do.

In addition to supporting shared maps, Co-Motion has a chat feature (students have to log on, which cuts down on obscenities), commenting feature, and voting feature. The voting feature works on a slider; each student votes her support (0 to 100) for each concept, and the computer figures the average level of support for all voting participants.

This is my favorite kind of program: Easy to set up, easy to understand, and free.

Copyright 1999, Jon Margerum-Leys and The University of Michigan.